The Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ is the dominant religion in Greece is since a large majority of the Greek population identify as Christian Orthodox and the Greek Constitution recognizes Greek Orthodox Church as the “prevailing religion.”
Article 13 of the constitution states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship with some restrictions. The constitution stipulates ministers of all known religions shall be subject to the same state supervision and the same obligations to the state as clergy of the Greek Orthodox Church. The Greek Orthodox Church, the Jewish community, and the Muslim Turkish minority in Western Thrace have long-held status as official religious legal entities as known religions. The Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, two evangelical Christian groups, and the Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian Apostolic, and Assyrian Orthodox Churches automatically acquired the status of religious legal entities under a 2014 law.
Greek law uses the term “known religions” for religious legal entities recognized and sponsored by the State. Ministers of the Greek Orthodox Church and other “known religions” enjoy a number of privileges under domestic law. “Known religions” are permitted to elect their own religious leaders, Christians and Jews have the right to elect their religious leaders. With legal status, the religious group may legally transfer property and administer houses of prayer and worship, private schools, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit entities. All religious legal entities or known religions remains exempt from taxation, as well as municipal fees, for groups classified as religious legal entities or “known religions.”
However, there is no any other religious group other than Muslim Turkish community in Greece where the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs directly intervenes in selection/election of the leaders. Although Article 3(1) of the Greek Constitution notes that the prevailing religion in Greece is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ, the ecclesiastic of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ is selected by the Church itself. Likewise, the Jewish Central Board or the Catholic and Protestant Church are free to elect its own religious leaders.
The Greek government has discriminated against the Muslim Turkish community and appoints Muftis in Western Thrace without consideration of the Muslims who live in the region. The autonomy in internal religious affairs of Muslim Turkish community in Western Thrace are not recognized by Greece and they are subject to taxation despite the fact that under Law No. 3554/2007 the pious foundations, vakfs belonging to the Turkish community should be exempted from submitting tax declarations relating to their previous years’ income, property assets and major land properties and their registered debts, fines and existing mortgages should be written off.
A parallel is often underlined between the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in İstanbul and the Muftiate(Mufti Office) in Western Thrace as the rights of the concerning Greek and Turkish minorities have been determined by the same treaty of Lausanne in 1923. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of İstanbul is elected by the Holy Synod after the submission of the list of would-be candidates to the public authorities.
Every person should have the right to freely to profess and practice their religion in the framework of freedom of religion or belief. The right to elect its own religious leaders of a religious community is violated in Greece and there is discrimination on religious ground against members of the Muslim Turkish community.
The Muslim Turkish community cannot enjoy its right to elect its own religious leaders while as other known religious communities in Greece have this right. They are subject to a violation of Article 13 of the Greek Constitution and discrimination which is prohibited in accordance with the Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
MINORITY MONITOR RECOMMENDATIONS
ABTTF calls on Greece and all participating States not to interfere in matters concerning the issues of faith, belief, or the organization of a religious group and recognize the Muslim Turkish community to choose its own religious leaders as other known religions in Greece.
Human Rights Without Frontiers recommends to the Greek authorities to grant the Muslim minority of Thrace the same rights as the other “known religions” in matters concerning the choice of their religious leaders.